While preparing this article, I had a chance to read Leonard Peikoff’s article, “My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand: An intellectual Memoir.” What he wrote in that article fit me – and to this article – so well that I want to paraphrase him, “When I first came across Ayn Rand’s work, Romantic Manifesto, I was an ignorant, intelligent 20-year-old who knew nothing about philosophy or how to think. Ayn Rand brought me up intellectually. Therefore, some of my reminiscences are going to cast me in the role of naïve foil exhibiting her brilliance by contrast. This implication does not bother me, however, because alongside my confusions and errors, I claim one offsetting virtue: I did finally learn and come to practice what Ayn Rand taught me.”
My Early Economic and Political Ideas:
I am an Indian who discovered Ayn Rand around the age of 20 in late 1970s. I had been dabbling with some political and economic ideas very early in my life. I still remember an argument I had with my mathematics teacher, who was a communist, when I was studying tenth standard at the age of 15 in 1971. It was a question I asked him about Soviet people standing in queues for wheat and meat during winter in sub-zero weather because of shortage of both commodities, which I learned about while reading newspapers, for which he could not offer a satisfactory answer.
Around the age of 20, I used to discuss with another communist friend of mine about comparative performance of different economic systems, particularly that of the United States of America and the Soviet Union. I usually defended United States of America against the Soviet Union at that time, more on economic principles, and to some lesser extend on political principles such as freedom of thought and expression, without invoking any underlying philosophical principles – the fundamental metaphysical nature of man, the nature and source of human knowledge – his conceptual knowledge – and the validation of his knowledge, and ultimately, a code of values – an ethics – derived from these two branches- metaphysics and epistemology.
My argument in essence amounted to the idea that American economic system was more productive and prosperous one than that of the Soviet system because of its freedom, and therefore, a preferable economic system. The source for the data that I used to defend my position in those discussions was Time and Newsweek magazines, which I started to read, often in a public library at that time, and English newspapers, which I began to read regularly since my college days starting around 1974.
My First Encounter with Ayn Rand’s Works: The Romantic Manifesto:
My communist friend one day gave me “The Romantic Manifesto” by Ayn Rand and told me that I would like the book. Oh! How his statement turned into a gross understatement! Later whenever I read “We The Living,” particularly the passages about Andrei Taganov, the good communist, the school teacher and the other friend of mine would often come to my mind. I still have great respect for my teacher and for my friend just for being what they were.
That book, along with other works of Ayn Rand, changed the course of my life. I learned a lot about art and its functions in life, and it had a profound effect on me. After reading the book once, I thought that I had to read that book again and again in order to understand many of the principles of art, it fundamental nature, and its function in human life, which I eventually did. I am very grateful to my communist friend for having introduced Ayn Rand to me.
My Sense of Life: Benevolent or Malevolent:
As far as my personal life was concerned, Romantic Manifesto was kind of enlightenment to me about the terrible conflict between my sense of life and conscious convictions. The first thing I learned was that my sense of life was fundamentally wrong, almost bordering on evil, and had to be corrected and altered dramatically if I had to have a character worthy of a rational being. I also realized that I had a long and hard struggle ahead of my life to achieve this, which I eventually was able to do with the help of “my commitment to reason, which I held to be an absolute without knowing its full meaning and application.”
Attitude Towards Films: Manifestation of My Sense of Life:
A major manifestation of my sense of life was my attitude towards films. At that time, I was the fan of a movie actor, who was a great actor, a brilliant one, but whose films depicted mainly of a universe of malevolent nature in which life was portrayed mainly as struggle and suffering and pain and death with implicit altruistic premises of sacrificing one’s life to others. The characters he played were mainly of a nature that sought sympathy and pity from the viewers rather than offered any uplifting feeling of respect and admiration to the viewer. There was another actor whose films depicted a benevolent kind of universe, but he was not a competent actor. When this was the kind of choice I encountered, a choice between esthetic incompetence and esthetic evil, I chose esthetic evil subconsciously, without realizing the meaning and the existential consequences of such a choice.
Sense of Life Transition: From a Malevolent one to a Benevolent one:
One redeeming aspect of my sense of life at that time was that I did not hate the other actor as most of the fans of the first actor did, which meant that I did not decide that life was entirely of malevolent nature, which would have been a symptoms of deeper malice in my sense of life. This helped me in rebuilding my sense of life to a benevolent one with less difficulty than if I had believed otherwise.
The Romantic Manifesto helped me not only to identify these flaws in my sense of life but also offered the solution to them, which I had to understand and implement in order to build a benevolent sense of life. This book, for these reasons, remains one of my favorite works of Ayn Rand.
Now, I do not see any films of my previous favorite actor, but I often hear the songs of the second actor that I mentioned previously. Though most of the songs are altruistic in nature in their lyrics, ultimately, they evoke a feeling of struggle and achievement of values and happiness and pride.
Need for a Philosophy of Life:
Even after reading and understanding the ideas about the nature of art and its functions in human life, I neither thought that a consistent and integrated view of life was needed for man to live a life of a rational being nor had any inclination that her other works would offer such a philosophy, but I realized that her works and her ideas would make some profound changes in my attitude toward life and in my actual life itself.
As I began to read more and more of her fiction and nonfiction works, I began to realize that I got what I had been groping and longing for since early in my life, subconsciously in my mind, “an integrated view of man’s life and of existence, a philosophy,” and since then, I have been trying to expand my knowledge of Objectivism and its application to life.
The Romantic Manifesto, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, We the Living, Night of January 16th, and Anthem all have helped me in correcting and rebuilding my sense of life as a benevolent sense of life from malevolent one after a long struggle.
Clash Between My Sense of Life and Conscious Convictions:
As far as my conscious convictions go, in my youth, as I stated earlier, I had some convictions based on some basic common sense economic ideas and some basic notions about individual rights and property rights, but without any deep causal connection with reference to the political and philosophical foundation that required to support such ideas. These common sense ideas of my mine were very much vulnerable when attacked by any form of altruistic philosophy, either from within or from outside. In fact, my subconscious mind, which had accepted some concepts of altruistic morality implicitly from the influence of the films, often clashed with my own conscious convictions. Still, my conscious philosophy of life – far from a coherent, consistent and integrated system of thought – was still truer than my sense of life.
I cannot exactly recount the steps and the processes by which I corrected my sense of life from being a malevolent one to a benevolent one, and how I learned the political and philosophical foundations to support my common sense economic and political ideas and formed them into conscious philosophical convictions. But, I can describe the logical steps by which I was able to form an objectivist philosophy to guide me in my life by rebuilding my value system anew.
I will deal with these issues in my next post and will explain in detail how I was able to achieve my goal of forming a benevolent sense of life and how I formulated my own philosophy, a philosophy of rational self-interest, through an understanding of Ayn Rand’s non-fiction works in the field of Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics.